Whitehorse City Council chambers were jam-packed Oct. 23 as country residential homeowners came out in force to speak at a public hearing on city-proposed infill lots in their neighbourhoods.
Emotions were high as 22 delegates addressed council, speaking on a variety of concerns including the loss of greenspace, pressures on wildlife, water availability and potential for contamination and the perceived threat of decreased property values.
The overwhelming majority of delegates were from Mary Lake subdivision and every single delegate in attendance was opposed to the development.
Mark Pindera, who moved to Fireweed Drive in 2014, said he felt the development in his neighbourhood was not compliant with the Official Community Plan (OCP). He accused the city of spending a lot of money on the plan but said it was “not very well thought out.”
“You know what’s well thought out?” he said, “An OCP.”
This was seconded by Greg Vohl, also of Mary Lake, who said some properties on the proposed infill sites might not be able to drill wells — in contrast to the city’s geotechnical report — which would be in contravention of the city’s OCP.
The OCP states that “country residential housing shall be maintained, where possible, on the basis of on-site sewage disposal and potable water sources.” It also recommends “limiting growth” in these areas because “ people who live in country residential neighbourhoods tend to rely on the use of the automobile since services such as a grocery store, banks, and schools are further away. This adds to traffic congestion, air pollution, and weaker support for transit.”
Vohl wanted to know what was going to stop the city, which must rezone some areas previously labeled as parkland, green space and environmental protection if it chooses to go through with the infill lots, from continuing to expand in the future.
“What’s going to protect the lifestyle we bought into? We paid money for (this lifestyle) and expected these (green spaces) would be there,” he said.
Mel Stehelin, a one-time city councillor and owner of 13 private lots in Hidden Valley that council recently approved for development, was concerned that infill development would impact the sale of private lots.
“I think this property encroachment into development (by the city) is mistimed and inappropriate,” he said.
Infrastructure was an issue for Philip Robertson of Mary Lake, who said the current road was “inadequate” for present traffic and more people in the area would damage it further.
“Our roads are already in poor shape,” he said.
Robertson added that, as it stands already, he has to truck water to his home, which further degrades the road because he is unlikely to hit water and “can’t afford $40,000 for a dry well.”
Ty Heffner of Whitehorse Copper said had specifically built his house to take advantage of the “ambient lighting” provided by a meadow which would be lost if a lot planned for that green space was developed.
Almost all delegates spoke passionately about the trails and greenspaces which would be lost if development were to go through.
The city has stated previously that it can only protect trails recognized in the official trails plan and is not required to consider “unofficial” trails in this process.
Frances Naylen spoke of one specific green space being opened for development, describing it as a “gem” and imitating for the crowd and council the sound the wind makes when it rustles the aspen leaves. Developing it would be “just totally wrong,” she said.
“People find solace in these areas … I never thought it would be gone,” Naylen said. “I feel strongly about these areas — they’re used, they’re very used.”
Jeff Beddall of Mary Lake, said that he has been living in the subdivision since its inception — he was “number three in the draw,” and that over the over the years it has just been “growing and growing out there.”
“It seems like there’s no end to it,” he said.
According to the OCP, 10 per cent of the city’s population live in one of 12 country residential neighborhoods. These neighbourhoods comprise 1,500 hectares — approximately 50 per cent — of the 2,800 hectares of land “currently devoted to neighborhood development.”
Country residential lots — just the lot, with no infrastructure or services — typically sell for between $200,000 and $250,000.
Each time it seemed as if the litany of concerns was about to come to an end, council would ask if there was anyone else present that wished to speak to the issue and another hand would go up and another person would come forward. The hearing went on for nearly two hours, leaving council visibly exhausted. When it finally concluded, Mayor Dan Curtis thanked the crowd for its good manners and orderly presentation.
“I have never seen a public hearing bring so much respect,” he said.
With the public hearing over, a report will be presented to council Nov. 6, with a final vote scheduled for Nov. 14.
Contact Lori Fox at email@example.com